Can you get sick from eating paper?

In this short article, we will provide an answer to the question, “Can you get sick from eating paper?” Moreover, we will discuss the composition of paper, the harmful effects of eating paper, what is eating paper a sign of? And why do some people eat paper?.

Can you get sick from eating paper?

The obvious answer is yes, you can get sick from eating paper. If a person eats paper in larger quantities, his intestine becomes swollen, making it difficult to absorb the nutrients well. Other symptoms include cramps and diarrhoea of varying severity.

Moreover, if you are consuming paper, you are presenting yourself at risk not only because your stomach can not digest paper, but also due to the chemicals and germs that you consume along with the paper. 

Composition of paper 

Paper is made up of processed wood pulp that is mainly composed of cellulose which is a harmless organic compound found in plants. But, we humans lack the enzymes needed to completely digest it. Therefore, it will be excreted out of the digestive tract almost in the same form as it was consumed. 

Cellulose is a thickener and filler and is a common food supplement that can help you feel full. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has limited the amount of cellulose, that can be added into different types of food.

Consuming little amounts of paper is generally not harmful, but it is safer to avoid it, particularly if it has ink on it.

In addition, since paper products are often bleached during processing, they contain bleaching by-products such as dioxins which are toxic as they can cause cancer and have been linked to reproductive problems.

What is eating paper a sign of?

Xylophagia is a health condition that involves the consumption of paper. It is a form of an eating disorder defined as pica. People who suffer from this eating disorder usually feed upon substances that have no nutritional value such as paper, ice, soil, tree bark, clay, pencils or other items made up of wood.

What do some people eat paper?

Malnourishment and dieting can both lead to pica- an eating disorder. However, there is no specific cause that leads to pica. Sometimes, lack of iron, zinc or any other essential nutrient may be associated with pica. 

If you are observing unusual cravings it could be a sign that your body is trying to make up for low nutrient levels. In these cases, consuming paper may help you feel satisfied. Some individuals may even enjoy and crave the flavours and textures of certain non-food items including paper. 

Pica mostly affects an estimated 10 to 30% of children of ages between one to six. However, it can also occur in adults. 

This eating disorder is commonly observed in patients who have developmental disorders such as schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder or patients who are diagnosed with autism. These patients may develop pica as a coping mechanism. It can also occur in pregnant women. However, the onset is temporary. 

Harmful effects of eating paper

Paper is not generally safe for human consumption. A little bit of paper every now and then may not be harmful. However consuming paper as a result of an eating disorder-pica- can lead to severe complications, such as gastrointestinal problems, obstruction and even organ perforation. 

Large amounts of paper when reduced to pulp in the intestine, can lead to obstructed bowels. This is dangerous and may require surgical intervention. Additionally, consuming paper can damage teeth and cause mental discomfort. 

Paper is made up of cellulose, that can not be digested by the human body. In addition to cellulose, paper is processed with chemicals that can be bad for human consumption, or that can prevent the intestine from absorbing essential nutrients. 

For instance, many papers are coated with clay. If consumed, the clay can bind with nutrients before the gut has a chance to absorb them.

Can you eat paper with ink on it?

No, do not eat inked paper because it is very toxic. However, consuming small amounts is fine, but it should be generally avoided as the ink can cause irritation in your eyes, mouth and skin. Stamp ink and printer cartridges have a higher ink content and pose a higher risk than ink from pens and markers.

To sum up, eating blank paper is generally less harmful as compared to paper with ink on it. 


In this short article, we have provided an answer to the question, “Can you get sick from eating paper?”. Moreover, we have discussed the composition of paper, the harmful effects of eating paper, what is eating paper a sign of? And why do some people eat paper?.


Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.